The state’s lawsuit against the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills continues with more hearings this week inside a Broward County courtroom in downtown Fort Lauderdale.
The Rehab Center is fighting Florida's Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) to keep its license and reopen after 12 people died in sweaty and stifling hot conditions three days after Hurricane Irma made landfall in South Florida.
New testimony from paramedics on Monday focused on one part of the events that happened on Sept. 13 2017. Paramedics were specifically asked how the evacuation of the second floor of the rehab center went, and if they thought it was necessary and done correctly.
Capt. Andrew Holtfreter was sworn in first. He works in fire rescue and EMS for the Hollywood Fire Department and he was in charge of transporting overheated elderly residents to the neighboring Memorial Regional Hospital that day when residents had already been without air conditioning for 62 hours after the hurricane.
“This was initially just transporting critical patients, and it turned into an evacuation, and there were so many patients that had to be transported out that it turned into a mass casualty,” Holtfreter said.
Lt. Christopher Sullivan, with Hollywood Fire Rescue, was also at the Rehab Center that day. He remembered Memorial Regional staff and all of the paramedics on scene reacted quickly to distressed residents.
“From what I saw, given the magnitude and the growing magnitude of the situation, I thought it was...I was impressed,” Sullivan said.
Sullivan also told the courtroom that seeing patients as hot as 108 degrees shocked him. Seeing the Rehab Center's heat was a career first.
"I would liken it to toxic gas inside that building," Sullivan said. "It was an unsafe, dangerous environment for the people who were there and they needed to be removed."
Only AHCA has presented its side of the case so far. The rehab center is expected to start defending itself, as the hearings continue throughout the month.